I have drunk excessive amounts of Diet Coke since I discovered how much I liked it during my final years at university. For a while before that, it was Lucozade- so I’ve always soothed myself with the fact that my fizzy drink addiction could be much worse. As well as tasting nice and being refreshing, I also associate Diet Coke with being comforting- an ice-cold glass of it, to me, is like being enveloped in a hug.
In 2005, I started to develop chronic anxiety and panic attacks to such a level that it greatly impacted my life and my ability to function on a day-to-day basis. With a combination of psychiatrists, psychologists and medication, it has become a lot better, but it’s still something that I suffer with daily.
I also get regular migraines and am on nightly muscle-relaxant medication for Fibromyalgia leg pains that prevent me from sleeping. I also suffer from extreme tiredness, and my daily two-hour afternoon sleeps have been getting increasing out of control. Add to this being overweight and having stained teeth from the tannins (a naturally occurring compound scientifically called polyphenols) in Diet Coke, and you’ll see that my life isn’t a barrel of laughs. How much of this could be down to my excessive Diet Coke consumption however? Is the fact that no water passes my lips that isn’t brown, fizzy, full of caffeine and artificially-sweetened a contributing factor to my daily physical and mental struggles?
My first stop was to talk to a dietician about what these drinks can do to the body. Glasgow dietitian LesleyReid talked me through what doctors and scientists have discovered. She told me that although the recommended safe caffeine intake is reported to be around 400 mg daily (which equates to 10 cans of juice, 4 brewed coffees or 2 energy shots), this level is often too high for many as it depends on your health, weight, BMI and if you are taking certain medications as to how much you can tolerate. She herself can only have 1-2 cups of coffee or cans of caffeinated fizzy juice before she can feel her heart rate increase, and her stomach churn from anxiousness. Caffeine has also been proven to cause insomnia, nervousness, restless limbs, headaches and muscle tremors. Sound like me to anyone?
Lesley also explained to me that Diet Coke offers no nutritional value and has no benefit to the body. It is, in fact, just a drink that is full of chemicals, sweeteners and flavourings. It has also been shown in studies that even although Diet Coke is a ‘diet’ drink, it can still contribute to weight gain. Lesley says that some artificial sweeteners can still trigger the body to produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that’s produced by the pancreas normally as a result of raised bloods sugars. Its job is to store more energy, i.e. body fat, which could resulting in increased weight gain. Even although you aren’t actually consuming real sugar, some parts of your body can treat it as such. She also explains that drinking artificially-sweetened diet juices can cause you to crave sugary foods. I can relate to all of this, but could the vast amount of Diet Coke I drink really contribute to my medical issues? Even my doctors and psychiatrists don’t think it’s out of the question.
Two weeks ago, I went cold-turkey and began a Diet Coke and artificially-sweetened caffeinated drink detox to find out. I swapped them for water and started a diary- writing about how I was feeling mentally and physically, and also how my skin looked due to the increase in my water intake. The first three days were very hard- I suffered from crippling headaches as a result of caffeine withdrawal. Scientifically, caffeine narrows the blood vessels around the brain. When you stop drinking it, they enlarge again, causing headaches. Interestingly, I didn’t actually crave Diet Coke- I craved sugar (and had to satisfy this itch on a few occasions) but not my favourite drink specifically. Reading and doing some adult colouring really helped to distract my mind.
At the end of the first week of swapping two litres of Diet Coke for two litres of water, I was noticing real improvements in my mind and body. I was no longer extremely tired during the day and enjoyed productive working afternoons at my desk, instead of sleeping under the duvet in bed. Although many people reach for caffeine to make them feel more awake, you can build up a tolerance to it and caffeine highs can also be followed by a crash in energy and alertness.
My skin was also looking plumper, brighter and healthier from drinking more water and consuming less caffeine. I’d had dry skin for quite a while, but makeup was now sitting a lot more evenly on my skin. The tannins in Diet Coke are dehydrating, and caffeine is also known to be a diuretic. Come to think of it, I was going to the toilet a lot less too.
During the second week, these benefits continued and I was no longer craving sugar every hour like I have done for as long as I can remember. Over time, this will definitely help my weight loss efforts. However, despite these changes, my anxiety and panic attacks were still as prevalent as always, and there was no improvement in the pains in my legs. I have an anxiety disorder and Fibromyalgia and I’m just going to have to get on with it.
Now that the detox period has finished, I love that I don’t need to sleep in the afternoon anymore- it has increased my work productivity ten-fold. My thrice weekly headaches and migraines have been replaced by a once-weekly irritating tension headache (you can’t have everything) and my skin looks a lot healthier and younger- confirmed by my facialist, which made me feel very smug. My teeth are whiter, I don’t feel as if I need to eat as many cakes, and I am able to sleep through the night without needing to go to the toilet. All in all, I’m really pleased and I will definitely never return to drinking that much Diet Coke again. I will still have the occasional glass though- everything in moderation!
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